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Has jumper, will travel

Brett Eppenhimer '99 has played for teams in five European countries since graduating from Lehigh.

While his fellow Lehigh University business school grads are making conventional ascents up the corporate ladder, Brett Eppenhimer '99 is taking a different path -- filling up his passport and piling up unforgettable life experiences.

Thanks to anywhere-in-the-gym range on his jump shot, Eppenhimer has become a real-life globetrotter, a professional basketball player.

Since graduating with a degree in finance, the 5-foot-11 Eppenhimer, one of the top scorers in Lehigh history, has played for pay in Germany, England, Spain (twice), Greece, and Italy, and traveled for away games to most western countries in Europe. He has also played in such remote eastern European countries as Romania and Albania.

While not anywhere near as publicized as the recent influx of foreign players into the NBA, Eppenhimer is part of a growing number of American-born Division I college players who aren't ready to turn in their hightops for wingtips just yet. For instance, other former Lehigh players who played pro basketball in Europe this past season included Austen Rowland (Germany), Dozie Mbonu (Cyprus), and Zlatko Savovic (Serbia).

For Eppenhimer, the experience has allowed him to play for pay while enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live all over Europe.

"I have been pretty lucky with the places I have lived," Eppenhimer admits. "In Tenerife [Spain], I lived on the beach and the weather has one of the most consistent climates in the world, 72-80 [degrees], so that was great, being a person who loves the beach. And when I played in Athens, I could see the Acropolis at night from my apartment building, which was pretty amazing to see.

"I've heard some horror stories where it has been the other way and that can make for a miserable time."

Instead, Eppenheimer is having the time of his life as the second member of his family to live out his hoop dreams overseas. His brother, Nick, who played basketball at Marist College in New York, played this past season in Sweden and has also played in Italy. Their mother, Claudia, has seen Brett play in Germany, Spain, and Italy.

"It is an opportunity not many people get in life. If they are happy, I am happy. They worked all their life for this," says Claudia, who lives in Pottstown, Pa. "As a mother, you want your child to have a steady job. In Europe, your destiny lays in the hands of coaches and owners. I am big on controlling your life situation."

That hasn't always been possible for her son. Eppenhimer, in mid-March, was still waiting to receive his last paycheck from one of his former teams in Italy that went bankrupt. And he says it once took more than a year to get paid from a team he played with in Spain.

"You take the good with the bad," he says. "Contracts here [in Europe] don't mean the same thing they do in the States. Here, it is just a piece of paper. There is no legal binding."

Even European newspapers can't resist an engineering pun. When Eppenhimer moved to Spain after lighting up a league in Germany in 1999-2000, it was hailed as an example of "German engineering."

This winter, Eppenhimer played with Euroida Scafati, a team in Italy's A2 League.

"People are very friendly in Italy. They invite you into their home and they don't even know you," he says. He scored 25 points in his first 11 games with the Italian team, seeing less playing time than he did earlier in his European career.

"Basketball-wise, I wanted to give Italy two years. But if I decide to come back next year to Europe, I would rather not return to Italy," Eppenhimer says. "They prefer point guards to just play defense and only bring the ball up on offense and pass it away. This doesn't really suit my style of play, so Italy hasn't been the greatest fit for me league-wise. I can speak the language now, so that is one benefit of playing in Italy. When you can communicate, that makes being away from home a little bit easier."

Eppenhimer, who turns 29 in late May, played forthe Mountain Hawks from 1995-99 and earned All-Patriot League honors as a junior and senior. As a junior in 1997-98, he averaged 24.7 points per game, with 667 points in 27 outings. That ranks as the third-best single-season mark in Patriot League history. The next season, he averaged 22.2 points per game and ended his career with 1,742 points, which currently ranks sixth all-time in the Patriot League.

Then, he began his pro career with a bang, averaging 20.7 points and 6.2 assists per game for Braunschweig in Germany in 1999-2000. The next season he moved to Spain, where he played for Tenerife Atun Canarias on one of the islands that makes up the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Eppenhimer went on to play for teams in England, Greece, Spain, and -- since November 2003 -- Italy.

Italy has one of the top leagues in Europe, and even the A2 league attracts former NCAA Division I American stars. Jamal Robinson, who played at the University of Virginia and in the NBA with Miami, was teammates with Eppenhimer this past season in Italy, along with Darryl Wilson (Mississippi State) and Harold Jamison (Clemson).

The A2 league normally allows no more than three Americans per team. But Eppenhimer did not count against the limit since he has an Italian passport, something he was able to acquire with a lot of paperwork and the help of a family friend with connections in Italy.

"As far as my basketball future, I reevaluate after each season, taking it year-to-year, but it's starting to wear on me a little at this point," Eppenhimer says.

While he enjoys playing overseas, Eppenhimer is also preparing for life after basketball. He owns property in Ocean City, N.J., and rents out a few units during the peak summer tourist season. One of his business partners is Jon Dean, a former Lehigh teammate and roommate who played as a freshman and sophomore for the Mountain Hawks from 1995-97.

"Real estate has been something I've been doing along with my basketball career, because I am home (in Ocean City) in the summer and am able to be there during the summer rental months. So at this point, basketball is year-to-year," Eppenhimer says.

He credits Lehigh with helping him make adjustments in Europe.

"The biggest thing I learned at Lehigh is how to deal with many things at once," Eppenhimer says. "Lehigh is a very difficult school and along with the basketball stuff, you often had a full plate. I think after you come out of a place like Lehigh, you are better equipped to deal with things in the future that often stress other people out who haven't been through something like that, whether in basketball or something else."

--David Driver

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Spring 2005

Posted on Friday, June 24, 2005

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